Zebrafish: It's not your parents' lab rat

Jul 30, 2007

Zebrafish cost about a dollar at the pet store. They grow from eggs to hunting their own food in three days. Adults can lay up to 500 eggs at once… and you have more in common with them than you think.

"For all their differences, humans and zebrafish aren't that dissimilar," said Rice University zebrafish expert Mary Ellen Lane. "For every zebrafish gene we isolate, there is a related gene in humans."

In her most recent work, Lane, graduate students Catherine McCollum and Shivas Amin, and undergraduate Philip Pauerstein zeroed in on a gene called LMO4 that's known to play roles in both cell reproduction and in breast cancer. Using the tools of biotechnology, the team studied zebrafish that couldn't transcribe the LMO4 gene, and they observed marked enlargement in both the forebrain and optical portions of the embryos. When they overexpressed the LMO4 gene, making more protein than normal, those same areas shrank. The study will appear later this year in the journal Developmental Biology.

"The study suggests that LMO4 independently regulates two other genes that promote growth in those areas of the embryo," said Lane, assistant professor of biochemistry and cell biology. "It fills in another piece of the bigger picture of what's going on during neurological development."

Zebrafish -- like rats and fruit flies before them -- are becoming regular contributors on research ranging from cancer to cocaine addiction. For example, zebrafish were used a landmark 2005 study that led scientists to the human gene that regulates skin color.

Lane's zebrafish studies explore one the major unexplained areas in developmental biology -- how the brain and central nervous system develop. It helps that zebrafish embryos grow from just a single cell to having a forebrain, hindbrain, spinal column and eye within a scant 24 hours. It also helps that the embryos are transparent and develop outside their mothers' bodies -- and can thus been seen under a microscope at every step of their development.

"It's a beautiful organism for experiment," Lane said. "It develops in a very regular way, so any abnormality is easy to spot, even for undergraduates with only a few days training."

Source: Rice University

Explore further: Aging white lion euthanized at Ohio zoo

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Cyclist's helmet, Volvo car to communicate for safety

4 hours ago

Volvo calls it "a wearable life-saving wearable cycling tech concept." The car maker is referring to a connected car and helmet prototype that enables two-way communication between Volvo drivers and cyclists ...

Recommended for you

A vegetarian carnivorous plant

Dec 19, 2014

Carnivorous plants catch and digest tiny animals in order and derive benefits for their nutrition. Interestingly the trend towards vegetarianism seems to overcome carnivorous plants as well. The aquatic carnivorous bladderwort, ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.